For 20 years, Normand Hector “absolutely loved” working for Xerox in Saint John. Then he found out he was making less than managers who were white.
“I was paid unfairly and treated unequally,” said Hector, who quit the company in distress in September 2019.
Hector was making $59,000 a year as a sales manager, but says he learned some managers made as much as 15 per cent more.
“And these were people who were promoted after me and some managed smaller teams than me,” Hector said.
In June 2020, Hector filed a complaint with New Brunswick’s Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and colour.
The commission says complaints based on race and related grounds, such as ancestry and place of origin, increased significantly between 2015 and 2020. The increases ranged between 63 and 80 per cent.
The commission assigned him a mediator, who attempted to broker a meeting with Xerox. Hector is still waiting for that meeting.
“That’s all I want,” he said. “I want to sit at the table with a mediator and someone from Xerox, and let’s look at the numbers together. Let’s just have a conversation.”
Xerox should be ‘steps ahead’ on diversity
Last year, Xerox Canada was listed by Mediacorp Canada Inc., which publishes employment-related periodicals, as one of the top 100 employers in the Greater Toronto Area for progressive human resource policies.
In 2009, Xerox made history as the first Fortune 500 company to have a Black woman as CEO. Ursula Burns held that role for seven years.
It’s a company that is “praised for its diversity,” Hector said.
“They should be steps ahead. Why are they afraid to talk to me?”
A ‘serious pay gap’
Hector said he joined Xerox in 1999 at its Saint John call centre, selling copiers over the phone.
He later travelled for business and won several trips and awards for being a top sales performer, he said.
In April 2018, he was promoted to sales manager on a trial basis and accepted the salary offered, even though he suspected it was low.
That’s because he had once accidentally received an email from human resources, with salary information for people in his office.
“And of course, I looked,” he said.
He also notified the company immediately, he said, and was asked to delete the email and sign a non-disclosure agreement.
When Hector became a full-time manager and his sales team was doubled from eight people to 16, he asked some of his peers what they were making.
“I would say, ‘Look, this is what I’m getting paid,’ and they would look at me in shock and say, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Hector said he spent months trying to get his supervisors to review his salary and fix what he felt was a serious pay gap.
He says his requests were repeatedly dismissed, and on Aug. 30, 2019, he gave notice that he’d be resigning.
The ‘world changed’
Eight months later, Hector was shocked by the images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd and Floyd’s subsequent death.
Hector became active in the Black Lives Matter movement in Saint John and spoke about employment equality at a BLM webinar last February.
“The world was talking about systemic racism and then I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what I went through,’ ” he said.
For the past two years, Hector has been re-examining what happened at Xerox. Some of his fondest memories are tainted now, he says.
Formerly proud of having his photo used in promotional material, he now wonders if he was “just being paraded.”
He questions why he was asked to lead “sales kickoff” meetings when company leaders were present.
He second-guesses why the company sent him to the predominantly Black Chicago State University in 2018 to deal with an account that was in arrears.
“The joke was always, ‘You’re the Black gay guy, so they’re going to use you,'” Hector said.
“I guess I didn’t want to believe it.”
Xerox would not agree to an interview with CBC News, but a brief email comment was provided by Callie Ferrari, director of corporate communications.
“Xerox is committed to upholding the highest diversity, equity and inclusion standards,” she wrote.
“However, as a standard practice we do not comment on pending litigation matters.”
In July 2020, Hector threatened to sue Xerox if the company did not respond to a settlement offer.
The offer was drafted by Saint John lawyer Kelly VanBuskirk, who declined to be interviewed for this story.
VanBuskirk advised Xerox that Hector felt he had no choice but to resign as a result of systemic and targeted discrimination on the basis of race.
He said Hector had been paid at a “serious deficit” compared to white sales managers of similar tenure, and staying with Xerox would have been “tantamount to acceptance of the discriminatory treatment he was being subjected to.”
The letter asked for 18 months’ pay, or $89,700. It also asked for $10,000 in general damages for violating the Human Rights Act, plus $10,000 for the stress, anxiety and humiliation Hector endured.
The settlement offer deadline of July 24, 2020 expired, but Hector did not go ahead with a suit. The idea of a legal battle against a corporate giant was overwhelming, he said.
And since the Human Rights Commission seemed willing to activate his case, he put his faith in reaching a resolution there.
Company cites ‘insubordinate behaviour’
Hector says his mediator told him Xerox would not agree to participate in mediation.
Rather, a lawyer for Xerox sent a letter to the commission, saying that Hector’s complaint was without merit and should be dismissed.
“The Complainant alleges that race played a factor in his remuneration while employed at Xerox. This simply is not true,” lawyer Clarence Bennett said in a letter dated Oct. 22, 2020.
The letter said Hector was “struggling with being a manager,” and that he was not delivering to “plan performance.”
In a paragraph subtitled: “The Complainant’s Behaviour as an impediment to a raise,” Hector is described as “insubordinate” and “petulant” in his effort to get a pay raise.
“The Complainant was successful in securing significant salary increases until he became too aggressive in August. In fact, the Complainant’s own insubordinate behaviour and attitude prevented him from achieving a final raise before any determination was made,” wrote Bennett.
Bennett did not acknowledge messages left at his Stewart McKelvey office.
Hector said if the company had a problem with his performance, they should have informed him of it.
“I would expect that if there were any legitimate issues with my performance or behaviour, such issues would have been raised with me at the time rather than after I made my complaint,” Hector wrote in his response to the commission.
In December 2020, Hector was informed his case was moving to the investigation stage.
The Human Rights Act authorizes the commission to compel documents and witnesses for investigation. Lawyers can be present in observer roles, and investigators can also visit a site.
All of this renewed Hector’s hope that there would be some progress on his case. Ten months later, he has yet to receive any updates.
Insufficient resources, commission says
The Human Rights Commission does not discuss or publish the details of specific cases.
But in general, commission chair Claire Roussel-Sullivan said resources are insufficient to deal with some complaints in a timely manner. They receive about 2,000 inquiries a year, and about 150 of those become active cases.
“We currently have 84 files that are in queue for investigation,” she said.
As for the makeup of the commission — of the six women and one man currently serving, only one identifies as a person of colour — Roussel-Sullivan said that is an area that needs improvement.
“We need to have a commission that is representative of all of New Brunswick’s population,” she said.
Hector agreed, saying that impacts the commission’s credibility.
“Can they put themselves in that person’s shoes?” he asked.
In the meantime, he waits, and hopes his story will help the commission become “more forceful.”
“Not only with my case, with many other cases,” Hector said. “I’m talking about anybody struggling with equality, diversity and inclusion.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.